I am a scientist. A genetic designer. In some ways, I am an artist whose canvas is the human body. My medium is the living cell. My studio is a lab where I build tools to manipulate the genetic code. I am an anthropologist at heart, a social scientist in mind, and an artist and designer in practice. I run a research lab at University of Pittsburgh. In parallel to my science, I design creative experiences--using film, theatre and other storytelling modalities--to promote a deeper reflection on the societal impact of science and technology
Samira Kiani, MD
Division of Experimental Pathology
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
Member: Pittsburgh Liver Research Center
Former AAAS Leshner Leadership Institute Fellow for Public Engagement with Science
Many of us now wish that 20 years ago, we would have had a more robust reflection about the tech future we were about to build. The IT revolution that has since transformed the world—mainly for the better, but with significant collateral damage to the global body politic—unfolded so quickly that public awareness, much less public policy, could not adequately comprehend the full implications of each technological leap as they occurred. We are now at a similar crossroads with genomic revolution.
Designer babies. Soldiers engineered with superhuman strength. The terrifying marriage of old-school eugenics with modern bioscience. These dystopias are moving from science fiction to realistic scenarios, further bolstered by entrepreneurial forces pushing inventions to translation. On the other hand, therapies for previously uncurable diseases, climate solutions, and environmental remediation are emerging biotech applications with a bright future. In between are many gray areas. I am a CRISPR scientist, which means I am part of the community that is creating these inevitable outcomes. I do not denounce my colleagues, but I acknowledge that most of us are so blinded by the norms and culture of science, if not individual hubris, that it is difficult to fully reflect on the broader impact of our work. Because so few in my world ask these questions loudly and clearly, I’ve decided to take on this challenge.
My intention is advancing a new vision of science, one based in the purposeful manipulation of social and biological systems, which is soulful, self-aware, human-centered, and informed by the collective wisdom of society. One integrated with moral philosophy and emotional intelligence.